Social Media and Shopping: Report Provides Potential Insights on North Korean Online Behavior

Image result for Social Media and Shopping: Report Provides Potential Insights on North Korean Online BehaviorA new report offers fascinating insight into Internet activity from North Korea, suggesting that average North Koreans and the upper echelons of the Workers’ Party and military aren’t nearly as cut off as commonly portrayed. However, no definitive conclusions can be drawn from the report about the source, frequency and range of this access because it doesn’t provide hard numbers for many of its conclusions and the raw data isn’t available. That is unfortunate because the findings are counter-intuitive to what we have assumed about North Korean online behavior. Opening the data to peer review may help us better understand the nature and scale of this activity and, if confirmed, could change the way the world deals with North Korea.

Findings

The report was published in July by the Insikt Group, the research arm of Massachusetts-based Recorded Future. The company utilizes machine learning to deliver online security threat intelligence to businesses. The basis for the report was Internet traffic captured outside of North Korea by Team Cymru, a computer security-focused non-profit that acts as Insikt’s “intelligence partner.”

In the report, researcher Priscilla Moriuchi, the director of strategic threat development at Recorded Future and a 12-year veteran of the US intelligence community, writes that users in North Korea spend much of their time online checking social media. Facebook was the most often accessed site with Google, Baidu and Instagram all attracting significant numbers of views. Alibaba, Amazon, Tencent and Apple rounded out the top eight social networking sites over the period of the data, which spanned April 1 to July 6 this year.

Just on April 1, for example, the report notes users accessed 163.com email accounts, streamed Chinese-language video from Youku and checked news on Xinhua and People’s Daily.

Team Cymru was vague about how it captured the data and exactly what it consisted of, but it has previously said it works with “data donors and sources.” It also declined to provide a copy of the North Korean data without subscription to its commercial service. But the report did provide details of how it decided what was “North Korean” traffic and it comes down to three blocks of Internet addresses.

  • The first was a block of 1,024 Internet addresses from 175.45.176.0 to 175.45.179.255. Those are addresses allocated to Star JV, North Korea’s sole Internet provider. All of the country’s websites sit within this range and it’s also used by the Koryolink 3G service for Internet access offered to resident foreigners and tourists.
  • The second was a smaller block of 256 addresses from 210.52.109.0 to 210.52.109.255. These are Chinese addresses but have been allocated to North Korea’s state-run telecom provider through China Netcom since before Star JV existed. North Korean websites sat in these addresses about 15 years ago.
  • The third group was another 256 addresses from 77.94.35.0 to 77.94.35.255. These are allocated to SatNet, a Russian satellite Internet provider and are currently registered as being used in Lebanon. In the past, these were registered as being used by North Korea, but information in the Internet address registration database isn’t verified so it’s unproven whether these were or are legitimate North Korean addresses.

Moriuchi feels sure the SatNet addresses were in use by North Korea during the time the data was collected and points to the similarity in access patterns between the SatNet addresses and the Star JV addresses; she didn’t see any traffic targeted at Lebanese websites, as might be expected. Again, the baseline data wasn’t available to illustrate or support that assertion. Moriuchi told me, however, that the SatNet traffic made up about 40 percent of the data with just 1 percent coming from the China Netcom block. The rest came from the North Korean IP range and that, if taken alone, would still support the general findings of the report.

Among Moriuchi’s research, she found a larger-than-expected amount of traffic from North Korea to India, Malaysia, New Zealand, Nepal, Kenya and Mozambique. She said the amount of access was higher than would typically be expected and directed at sites such as a local news outlets and governments—the kind of sites only someone living there or with a link to the country might access.

In fact, one fifth of all activity observed in the data involved India—a surprising amount. According to the report, the traffic suggests North Korea has students at least seven universities and might be working with several research institutions in the country.

Of the countries mentioned, Malaysia and Indonesia also maintain diplomatic missions in North Korea, although Malaysia brought diplomats home as relations with Pyongyang broke down in the wake of the murder of Kim Jong Nam in Kuala Lumpur.

Perhaps most intriguingly, on May 17, Bitcoin mining traffic was observed. There had been none since the beginning of April but it suddenly spiked. The report notes the close timing with the release of the “WannaCry” malware that hit computers between May 12 and 15. WannaCry demanded a ransom in Bitcoin and was linked to North Korea by computer security companies.

The report also noted the use of at least seven different western VPN (virtual private network) services in traffic among the data. Such services require a credit card subscription, which isn’t impossible for a North Korean to arrange through overseas contacts, but again raises the question of who is behind the traffic.

The report notes, “one VPN was used by an iPad to check a Gmail account, access Google Cloud, check Facebook and MSN accounts, and view adult content. Other VPN and VPS (virtual private server) were used to run Metasploit (security software), make purchases using Bitcoin, check Twitter, play video games, stream videos, post documents to Dropbox, and browse Amazon.”

Caveats

An important caveat to many of the findings in the report is that it’s unclear how many people were covered and who they are. The report refers to those with Internet access as a “limited number,” but it didn’t acknowledge that several hundred foreigners might be present in Pyongyang at any one time, accessing the Internet and connecting to overseas sites. For them, using VPNs, accessing Facebook and Google and checking 163.com email accounts would be expected.

Moriuchi later told me she did see traffic that appeared to be foreign residents but it was just a small sliver of the overall data. But it’s impossible to know how much because the report doesn’t provide those numbers and Moriuchi wouldn’t disclose them.

Take the Indian traffic, for example. From the data provider, it’s impossible to determine whether the increased activity to India is just bored diplomats at India’s embassy Pyongyang. We also don’t know the amount of data analyzed, the number of websites accessed or even an estimate as to the number of Internet users in Pyongyang.

In a phone conversation, Moriuchi told me the traffic collected represented a significant number of records—it wasn’t just a handful of web sessions each day—but wouldn’t put numbers on it. When I asked her what it might compare to, she said it was about what you might expect from a medium-sized company—which is about 50 to 250 people according to most definitions.

Unanswered Questions

Just like almost everywhere else, Facebook is king for the people inside North Korea that have Internet access, and they also spend a fair amount of time on Google, Baidu and other major sites. If the traffic is really coming from North Koreans rather than resident or visiting foreigners, then they really are very much like us—more than we ever imagined.

However, while the report adds insight into the largely opaque area of access to the Internet from inside North Korea, it’s far from clear exactly what was captured and whether all of it was really from North Koreans.

I’ve spoken to several North Korea and Internet experts about the report and they all draw the same conclusion: that something is not quite right with the numbers. Perhaps a lot more of it is from foreigners than estimated or perhaps there’s an unknown Internet connection that wasn’t taken into account.

Or, perhaps we are all wrong and North Koreans really are going online and checking Amazon and Alibaba. Without more information, it’s impossible to know and that’s unfortunate because of the surprising nature of some of the findings.

Moriuchi says she’s sure about the results reached from the data set—the sites accessed, the traffic patterns, the activity—and I’m sure that’s true. Nonetheless, I’d love to do a deeper dive into the data to gain much greater granularity and insight into some of its conclusions.

[“Source-38north”]

Google Photos Removes Option to Backup Media Only While Charging

Google Photos Removes Option to Backup Media Only While Charging

HIGHLIGHTS
The option allowed devices to perform backup only while charging
Users still have the option to stop backup while on cellular data
The option is said to still show up for some people
Google Photos app for Android and iOS has quietly removed the feature that allowed devices to backup images and video files only while charging the device. Users could earlier choose this option to ensure that the backup of media files doesn’t end up draining their device’s battery life but it seems like the search giant has now removed the option without any explanation for why it did so.

While Google Photo users still have the option to switch off backup of media files while on cellular data, they can no longer add the constraint related to charging. As you might expect, this feature was extremely beneficial as it made sure that the backups were only performed when the device was in proximity to a power source and was not running short of juice.

As pointed out in a 9To5Google report, with the release of version 2.17 for Android and 2.18.0 on iOS, this option in the backup settings within the Google Photos app was removed.
The While charging only option is currently not visible with any of our devices, on both platforms, but 9To5Google says that there is a minority that can still see the option available. Interestingly, the option cannot be seen on company’s help page for Google Photos backup settings as well.

Notably, the option to switch off media backup while on roaming is still available within the Google Photos app. Users can always switch the cellular data option off and as Wi-Fi is usually available at either homes or offices, which usually have easily accessible power sources too, they will still be saved from battery drain. However, an extra option at your disposal is something nobody ever complains about – hope you’re listening Google.

[“Source-ndtv”]

Media giants partner to develop ‘Blockchain Insights Platform’ for video advertising efficiency

Image result for Media giants partner to develop ‘Blockchain Insights Platform’ for video advertising efficiencyComcast’s Advanced Advertising Group, announced that it is developing a new ‘Blockchain Insights Platform’ that it aimed to improve the efficiency of premium video advertising.

The blockchain platform will enhance planning, targeting, execution and measurement across screens. Comcast has partnered with media giants NBCUniversal, Disney, Altice USA, Channel 4 (UK), Cox Communications, Mediaset Italia and TF1 Group (France) for the blockchain initiative.

The announcement was made at the Cannes Lions in Cannes, France and the Blockchain Insights Platform intends to formally launch in 2018. The company is also in discussions with other programmers, distributors, device makers and marketers from the U.S. and Europe.

“Television advertising is an efficient and effective way for marketers and their agencies to reach a large audience, yet today the way advertisers use insights to plan, buy and deliver advertising is limited,” Marcien Jenckes, President, Advertising, Comcast Cable, said. “This new technological approach would make data-driven video advertising more efficient and consumer data more secure. We’ll work with the participants in this initiative to improve ad planning, addressable targeting, execution and measurement, to ultimately create even more value for the television advertising industry.”

Blockchain Insights Platform characteristics include consumer privacy, where each blockchain participant’s data would stay in their own systems and they would continue to manage the protection and privacy of their users. The technology includes a series of encryption and rights management layers that would result in a system that lets blockchain participants in the platform ask questions of each other’s data without having to access or take possession of anyone else’s data to get their marketing questions answered.

Comcast’s Advanced Advertising Group has developed platforms and technologies in order to create simplified solutions that benefits Comcast Cable, distributors, programmers, agencies and advertisers from the U.S. and Europe. The company will collaborate with other media giants to develop the Blockchain Insights Platform.
[“Source-ndtv”]

20 Taboo Topics to Stay Away From on Your Company’s Social Media Channels

If you use social media to promote your business online, you should be aware of these 20 things to never post on social media.

If you use social media to promote your business online, you’ve probably put a lot of thought into what types of posts to share. But sometimes it can be just as important to consider what NOT to post on social media.

Sensitive or taboo topics that don’t really relate to your audience can actually hurt your business if you post about them on social media without a strong purpose. Here are 20 taboo topics that most businesses should avoid posting about on social media.

Things to Never Post on Social Media

Complaints About Customers

You likely want to use social media as a way to connect with your customers. But if all you do is trash them online, it can obviously have the opposite effect. Even the occasional complaint about customers can be enough to damage your brand.

Complaints About Employees

Another kind of trashing you probably want to avoid is complaining about your employees online. The customers you connect with want to know that you have a strong team behind you that they can trust. So don’t take to social media to share complaints or rants about the inefficiencies of that team.

Angry Rants

In fact, any anger you have toward others, whether it’s the barista down the street who got your name wrong or the person who cut you off in traffic on the way to work, is probably best saved for venues other than social media.

Unconstructive Criticism About Public Figures

It’s also fairly likely that you’ll have some negative feelings toward public figures at some point, whether that’s politicians, celebrities or anyone in between. But if you’re going to criticize them in a way that’s totally unconstructive, it can come across as petty to your social media followers.

Divisive Political Opinions

You probably also have followers with a large assortment of different political beliefs. So it’s not always a good idea to share political opinions or views that are divisive or might alienate some of your followers.

Religious Rants

Religion is another tricky area. Unless your business or brand is targeted at a certain religious group or your posts don’t specifically alienate other groups of people, it’s probably best to steer clear.

Intrusive Questions

You also don’t want to be too intrusive when asking questions of your followers, either when posing general questions or interacting with people individually.

Ridicule of Any Group of People

If you use humor in your social media accounts, you need to be very careful who you might offend with your jokes. A silly tweet is fine now and then, but making fun of specific groups of people can go over the line.

Fake News

There are so many sources of fake news online, whether created on purpose for clicks or just because of lazy reporting. So be careful not to share anything that’s not true, as it can make your business look bad and lead to your followers being misinformed about important issues.

Trashing of the Competition

Healthy competition can be good for a business, even if you take that rivalry to social media. But there’s a big difference between a friendly back-and-forth and legitimate trash talking, which can make your business look petty.

Confidential Customer Information

Social media also isn’t the place for you to share any sensitive or confidential information about your customers. That probably seems obvious. But since some businesses use social media as a way to settle customer service issues, it is something that might come up from time to time.

Complicated Customer Service Issues

For that matter, it’s worth noting that social media really isn’t the place for you to settle customer service issues that can’t be handled with just a tweet or two. You can respond to customers’ original posts, but then try to move it to email or another format if you need more information.

Medical Issues

Medical issues, whether they relate to you, your team, your customers or anyone else, are also best saved for forums other than social media, if you even need to discuss them at all.

Personal Drama

Social media also isn’t the place for any drama related to your personal life. Even if you are part of your business’s brand, people don’t need to hear about personal drama that’s probably irrelevant to them anyway.

Apathetic Updates

Even though everyone has those days where they’re really just not feeling enthusiastic about work or business, your customers don’t need to hear about it. So don’t share with your followers every time you’re having a bad day or just feeling “blah” about your business.

Party Photos

Sharing photos of your team can be a great way to make your business more relatable on social media. And posting a casual photo at a local happy hour after work might be okay. But avoid the shots of the people who stayed at the office party until 2 a.m. and maybe overdid it. Those images will probably not instill your customers with confidence in your professionalism — or convince others following on social media to do business with you.

Anything Illegal

It should also be fairly obvious that posting anything illegal, whether it’s drug use or even just speeding, is a very bad idea. Ad it might get you not only duped by clients but even prosecuted.

Risque Photos or Content

You should also stay away from posting any sexually suggestive photos or other content.

Controversial Re-posts

Even if you weren’t the original creator of a post, it can still make your business look bad if you re-post it. So stay away from retweeting or sharing any content that could be considered controversial.

Anything Irrelevant to Your Audience

The types of posts listed above can potentially make your business look bad on social media. But to be safe, it’s also best not to post anything that’s irrelevant to your audience. Sticking to only the essentials can help you avoid posting anything that’s going to hurt your business or your brand.

Shhh Photo via Shutterstock

[“source-smallbiztrends”]